The Doctor strolled out of the TARDIS confidently, Sarah Jane right on his heels. She looked around, her face turning instantly to one of disgust as she took in her surroundings. It looked as if the TARDIS had landed on the edge of a forest, overlooking a wheat field. A few nondescript buildings dotted the landscape, but Sarah thought they just looked like a country village on Earth somewhere. Nothing nearly as exotic as the Doctor had promised. 'Oh come on, Doctor, this certainly isn't the Leisure Gardens of Betelgeuse. Unless the Leisure Gardens have taken on a decidedly Earthly smell and look like a regular country village, this doesn't seem like one of the most relaxing places in the universe.'
He reached up and pushed his hat to the back of his brown curls and looked around, a smile spreading across his face. 'The Betelgeuseans have crafted this into a technological marvel, Sarah, and that's what makes the Leisure Gardens so fantastic. They mimic both the look and the smell of the visitor's home planet to best put them at ease. This seems to be the right place, you have to appreciate it for what it is.'
Sarah looked up at him, an idea occurring to her. 'What if their home planet is some war torn disaster area that smells of putrefying flesh and gun powder?'
He looked down to catch her gaze, frowning. 'There's a disturbing thought.' He processed her comment. 'I suppose in that case the Leisure Gardens wouldn't be that restful, would they?'
'Mmm.' Sarah looked around. 'I guess we'd better check it out, yes?'
His trademark Cheshire cat grin returned. 'You read my mind, Sarah.' He stuck his finger in his mouth, then held it up in the air, then pointed first to his right, then off towards the left. 'That way?' he suggested before walking straight ahead to investigate, Sarah following, never more than two steps behind.
They barely reached the edge of what Sarah would've called civilisation when they each felt a sharp object in their back. They stopped walking instantly, but didn't turn around. 'You two will come with us,' a deep voice boomed. 'Your visit was not registered. Every visitor must be registered.'
'Ah,' the Doctor started, slipping his hand around Sarah's and giving it a gentle squeeze. He glanced over his shoulder, trying to get a look at who was behind him. 'Merely an oversight on our part. If you'd simply take us to where we need to register, we'd be more than happy to give any appropriate information for registration.'
'Too late, traveller. We have need of you.'
The Doctor turned to Sarah. 'See Sarah, we're needed. No change from normal then.'
Sarah gave the Doctor an ironic smile as the two masked figures used their weapons to push the Doctor and Sarah along. 'Well, it's always nice to be needed.' They both stole glances back at the guards, but the iron masks and hoods kept their captors well hidden.
Sarah sat on a cot in her jail cell and concentrated on the floor in front of her, trying to tune out the noise coming from the other cells. She heard both screams and cries, each wail disturbing her a bit more as she tried to keep her overactive imagination in check. She looked towards the set of metal bars separating her cell from the one holding the Doctor and watched him pace around like a caged cat on the prowl. He would occasionally wave his hands about and mutter something under his breath that she couldn't make out over the other noise, but for the most part, he didn't speak. She walked over and put her hands on the bars. 'Doctor?'
He glanced at her, but said nothing, intent on continuing to wear out the cement floor beneath his feet.
She knew he was concentrating, but she needed something to focus on other than her surroundings. 'Something's going through that oversized head of yours, so you might as well share it.'
Looking around once more before being satisfied that no one was obviously watching, the Doctor kicked at a loose chunk of concrete before walking over to the bars. He put his hands above Sarah's so they weren't actually touching. 'I think I've been here before, Sarah.'
She smiled. 'Doesn't surprise me, you've been in loads of jails before. I've even sat beside you in more than my fair share.' He shot her a look that wiped the smile from her face and kept her from teasing any further. 'Go on,' she prompted him.
'I'd forgotten that in addition to the technological advancements needed to create the Leisure Gardens, the Betelgeuseans are really keen on other methods of scientific research.'
Sarah sighed. 'That explains the noise. We're the equivalent of lab rats, aren't we?' Another scream echoed through the cells, causing Sarah to tighten her grip on the bars in front of her. She tried to ignore the sounds as she focused on the Doctor's face. 'Soon to be tortured lab rats.'
'Well, I wouldn't have phrased it quite so bluntly, but yes, essentially.'
As a voice echoed around them, the Doctor slid his hands down over Sarah's, trying to reassure her. 'You're correct Time Lord. We have something very interesting planned for you and your human companion.'
'Oh good.' Sarah tried to put on a brave smile, even while her stomach took a nervous nosedive. 'I would hate for things to be dull,' she said sarcastically.
The locks on the both of their cell doors opened with a loud pop. The Doctor absently patted Sarah's hands as they both turned and stepped forward towards the cell doors. 'Here we go,' the Doctor whispered.
The Doctor hated losing track of time. For once in his life, he couldn't even catalogue the missing pieces and come up with a total. He suspected that he'd been away for hours, but had no clue what had been done to him during that time. Instinctively, he knew something wasn't right. He just didn't feel right. The last thing he remembered, both he and Sarah were walking towards the cell doors, then everything else was a blank until this exact moment.
He mentally jolted himself back to the present when he felt the weapon being shoved into his back yet again. He tripped over his scarf as he was shoved back into his cell. Looking over into the next cell, he found it empty. 'What have you done with Sarah?' he growled at his captors.
'Your human pet?' The voice echoed around the room yet again. 'We are taking good care of her. You needn't worry.'
The Doctor looked around, trying to find the source of the voice when a sharp pain shot through his chest. His hand flew up to the centre of his chest as he struggled to breathe. He moved his hand from one side of his chest to another, his frown deepening. 'One heart,' he mumbled, forcing air into his lungs. As he fell to his knees, he could only glance over to the empty cell next to his. His last thought before losing consciousness was a hope that Sarah wasn't suffering something equally as painful.
The first thing Sarah noticed as she returned to consciousness was the cold concrete floor she was lying on. She sat up slowly, fighting a wave of dizziness then looking around, immediately recognising the cell that she'd been imprisoned in before the experiment. Closing her eyes, she somehow knew she'd been out of the cell for five and three quarter hours, almost to the minute. She opened her eyes and saw the Doctor still unconscious in the cell next to her. 'Doctor?' she called out, scrambling to her feet and rushing over to the bars separating them. She knelt down to try and reach through the bars to him, but he was on the floor just out of her reach. She stood up and began to walk around the cell, looking for anything that would let her pick the lock on the door so she could get to him.
A moan coming from the other cell let her know that the Doctor was regaining consciousness. She ran back over to the bars and watched as he began to stir. 'Doctor?' she called out to him, an edge of desperation in her voice. Suddenly, an intense pain seared through her head, and she grabbed the bars to remain upright.
'Dendrites being assaulted by neural pathways not native to human species.' She clenched her teeth before reaching up to massage her temples with her fingers, trying to alleviate the pain. She finally noticed the feel of duel hearts beating in her chest and the expanding perceptions of space and time beginning to echo through her very being. She sank down to her knees as the entire floor seemed to shift under her feet, her brain processing it as the normal spin of the planet on its axis hurtling through space. She spaced out her breathing, taking into account the respiratory bypass system and the increased lung capacity.
'This can't be right,' she whispered before losing consciousness yet again.
A voice echoed around the cells. 'Put them together. We need to see how they respond to one another once they realise the changes we've incorporated.'
Pushed through a small door, the Doctor instantly took in the quaint room around him and its contents. A small bed in the corner, a nightstand with a lamp and a plush throw rug in the centre of the floor. He gasped, seeing Sarah lying in a heap at the centre of the rug. He rushed forward to kneel by her side, his emotions flooding in a raging torrent. He barely processed the door slamming behind him as his attention focused completely on Sarah.
Rolling her gently onto her back, he quickly checked her pulse and frowned at the results. He wrapped one arm around her, pulling her towards him and cradling her close. With his other hand, he smoothed back her hair, his fingers lingering along her face as he heard her breath come in uneven gasps. 'Come on Sarah, wake up, please.' His voice cracked with emotion. 'You can do this.' On hearing the tone of his voice, he hated the way it sounded, but couldn't help it, given the state he was in. He held Sarah tightly, gently rocking her back and forth. 'Please,' he begged. Finally, her eyes flickered open. 'Oh thank Rassilon,' he breathed a sigh of relief. 'You're awake.'
Sarah looked up at him blankly as the Doctor wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. Sarah's arms hung limply at her side, not returning his embrace. 'What is going on?' she asked, taking in her surroundings and pulling away from him. She looked down to where the Doctor still held her hand. 'You're too warm,' she said absently before standing up and quickly examining the edges of the room. 'There's a slight dampening field surrounding the exterior perimeter. Punch a hole in that and we should be able to get away.' She turned back to where the Doctor was still kneeling on the floor. She reached out her hand to him. 'Sonic screwdriver?'
Silently, he stood up, reached in his pocket and stepped closer to hand it to her. After taking it from him, she quickly adjusted a setting, walked over to the far corner of the room and aimed the sonic towards the ceiling. 'Not quite right.' She changed the settings and tried again, without success. 'So, not as easy as it seems. That's all right, I'm sure I'll figure something out, I just have to think about this logically.' She began to pace around like a caged tiger.
The Doctor watched her for a moment before speaking. 'Sarah, how do you feel?'
She found a pottery vase on a small table, picked it up and began to intently examine it. 'Fine, why do you ask?' She put the vase down and tweaked the sonic before aiming it at the vase, causing it to shatter into tiny fragments. Frowning, she tossed the sonic back to the Doctor as she walked over and dropped onto the bed. 'Well, so much for that being a focal point.'
The Doctor sat next to Sarah, as Sarah leaned over with her elbows on her knees, massaging her temples. 'My head is pounding,' she whispered.
He reached his hand out, then pulled it back and waited. Taking a deep breath, he cautiously put his hand on the centre of her back. 'Sarah, what's going through your mind right now?'
She looked up at him, her eyes widening as she pondered the depths of that simple question. When she finally spoke, it was an almost hushed reverence. 'Everything. Time and space, alternate dimensions, the spin of the planet on its axis hurtling through space, every microsecond measured in its preciseness. All that ever happened or ever was, or even will be.' She closed her eyes tightly as if to block out the images and sensations. 'It's too much, Doctor,' she breathed out the words, her voice as exhausted as her mind. Sarah took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. With her eyes closed, the Doctor saw what Sarah couldn't and watched the golden particles dance around her face before dissipating. She finally opened her eyes to look at the Doctor again as tears began to form. 'It's like a physical pressure against my brain. How can you stand it?'
Pulling his hand back to himself, he turned away from her, unable to look at the pain evident on her face and not wanting her to see that same pain on his, he focused instead on the floor. 'It was all I've ever known.'
She keyed into one word. 'Was?' Sarah leaned over and took hold of the Doctor's wrist. 'Single pulse.' She shifted to more easily face him before reaching out and touching the side of the Doctor's face, gently turning his head towards her so she could look into his eyes. 'Doctor? You're human?'
He sighed, the emotions rushing through him. 'I don't know what I am anymore. But you, Sarah,' he started, but stopped as he focused on her eyes. He knew she couldn't see the golden glow still residing there. With one hand, he reached up and touched her cheek, allowing his fingers to dance across the soft skin. He ran his fingers along her forehead and down the edges of her face, brushing back her hair before letting his hand come to rest against her neck, the pad of his thumb continuing to ghost over her jawline. In looking at her now, he began to see all the things that as a Time Lord, he'd pushed to the edges of his consciousness. They threatened to overpower him. The way she looked at him, the vibrancy of life reflecting in her eyes, the lingering scent of shampoo in her hair, the way her hand fit so well within his. He'd noticed them all before and always known that she was considered attractive by human standards, but he saw it now for himself as if for the first time. His voice was awestruck as he whispered, 'You're beautiful.'
He watched tears dance on the edges of her eyes, even though she was smiling. 'Thank you,' she whispered before sagging against him, her head leaning against his arm.
He turned slightly, so that her head was resting more against his shoulder as he slipped his arm around her waist and brought his opposite hand up to smooth down her hair. 'What's wrong?'
'So heavy, my head.' Her head lolled forward as she fought to maintain consciousness. 'It hurts.'
'You need to sleep, Sarah. That's the only way your brain can process the biological changes without causing you any permanent ill effects.' The Doctor stood up, his arm pulling Sarah up with him. He turned them both slightly and with his opposite hand, pulled back the duvet on the bed before guiding Sarah to sit back down. 'Here, lie down.'
Sarah reclined back in the bed, her eyes fighting to stay open while the Doctor tucked the duvet around her. 'You realise of course that we're being watched.'
He nodded, his hands still resting on her shoulders. 'I don't care. We'll deal with that later.'
'They want to see how we react as beings other than our native species.' Sarah struggled to keep her eyes open, but reached up to cover one of his hands with hers, concern evident in her voice. 'How are you feeling?'
'I'll be fine. My memories are intact, even if my perception is different. Being human wasn't high on my list of things to experience. In fact, it wasn't there at all.'
Sarah sighed and turned on her side away from him to face the wall. 'I'm sorry, I never meant for this to happen.'
He sat down on the edge of the bed and reached over her to take her hand in his. He leaned in close to her ear. 'This isn't your fault, Sarah.' His voice dropped to a whisper. 'I love your humanity.'
She whispered back, 'Since when? You usually disparage it at every opportunity. Makes me wonder why you like having me around.' She stayed curled on her side in a ball, her voice mirroring her posture, wavering with a heartbroken angst that rattled through her entire being. 'And now, I don't even know what I am anymore.'
The Doctor was still leaning in close to Sarah, but he struggled with how to respond. The first words coming to his mind he certainly didn't feel comfortable in saying. He reached up with the hand that wasn't still holding hers and began to smooth down the back of her hair. He hoped she perceived it as comforting. 'First and foremost, you're my best friend.' He rested his forehead against Sarah's shoulder. 'Oh Sarah. You're very important to me, you know,' he whispered. He pulled back to watch her expression and could only observe her face became a mask of pain, causing her to cry out. 'Sarah?'
'Searing pain,' she breathed out, trying to regain her composure. 'In my mind.' Even with her eyes tightly closed, the Doctor didn't miss a small tear escaping. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. She turned her head to look up at him, her voice childlike. 'Don't leave me.'
His voice was soft as he responded. 'Where could I go? They've locked us in.' He tried to smile but it felt as if his singular heart was breaking. 'Don't worry, Sarah. I'm not going anywhere.' He continued to watch her pained expression and came to a decision. 'We need to try something, but I don't know if it'll work.'
Sarah turned to look up at him. 'I'm willing to try anything.'
The Doctor reached up and put his index fingers on Sarah's temples and closed his eyes. 'I need you to concentrate. You have to initiate the contact, Sarah. Search your mind and you'll know what to do.'
Sarah did as he asked and closed her eyes. She let her mind search out his and when she found it, she felt the calmness coming from him. Within moments, the pain had eased and she finally drifted off to a contented sleep. The Doctor stood up and released the breath he'd been holding. With a smile, he tucked the duvet closely around her and flopped gracelessly into the chair next to the bed, closing his eyes in relief.
The Doctor continued to sit in the chair next to the bed, watching Sarah as she slept. He allowed himself to catnap through the night, once he was sure that Sarah was resting. However, now he was beginning to get anxious that their captors had yet to make their presence known.
The door flew open, causing the Doctor to jump out of the chair. Sarah was instantly awake, out of bed and standing next to him. Sarah started to step forward, but the Doctor reached out and caught her arm, pushing her behind him. He relaxed instantly as he recognised the Betelgeusean that entered the room, even before she pushed the hood back from her blue scaled face, her relief obvious. 'Doctor, thank goodness you and your companion are safe. Have you been harmed in any way?'
'As a matter of fact, Minister, you could say we're not quite ourselves.'
Sarah stepped out from behind the Doctor. 'Who are you?' she asked bluntly.
The Betelgeusean bowed deeply to both the Doctor and Sarah. 'I do apologise, Miss Smith. It seems we know more about you than you do us. My name is Unguran and I'm the Betelgeusean High Minister. The Doctor here is well known and respected amongst our leaders.' She turned to the Doctor. 'When we found your ship, Doctor, we were worried that the Elect may have gotten to you.'
'They did,' the Doctor said softly. Sarah started to say something else, but the Doctor gave Sarah's hand a gentle squeeze and continued. 'I need you to take us to their laboratory.'
Unguran frowned. 'That might be a problem, Doctor. The Queen's Guard discovered that the Elect were engaging in a certain number of experiments deemed unethical. When we went to discuss this with them, there was a violent confrontation. Ultimately, several members of the Queen's Guard were killed. We've arrested their lead scientists, but most of their equipment was destroyed in the process.'
'How did it happen?' the Doctor asked.
'Rather than allow us to determine the true nature of what was occurring with their experiments, the Elect chose to destroy their laboratories and any evidence of their research.'
Sarah finally stepped forward. 'At least let us see what's left,' she offered. 'We might be able to piece enough together to figure out and reverse what they did to us.'
Unguran looked from the Doctor to Sarah and back again. 'Of course. All the resources of the Ministry and the Queen's Guard are at your disposal, and you have full run of any location here in the Leisure Gardens. We will also have proper quarters set up for you both.'
'Thank you,' the Doctor replied. 'Can you show us the way to the lab now please? There's no time to waste.'
They made their way quickly to what was left of the demolished lab. Sarah walked around and started kicking at the rubble. Finding something interesting, she knelt down and picked up a piece of equipment and stared intently at it. Unguran watched her for a moment before turning towards the Doctor, who was also watching Sarah. 'Do you need ay further assistance, Doctor?'
'I think we'll be all right, Unguran. Thank you for your help. We'll find you when we have some answers.'
Without another word, Unguran left the Doctor and Sarah to their search. Sarah glanced up at the Doctor but didn't get up from where she was still crouched down. 'This equipment has been pretty well obliterated.' Something across the room caught her attention. She stood up, walked to the far side of the room and bent down to pick up something small. She looked at it, then held it up for the Doctor. 'Focusing generator.'
The Doctor walked over to Sarah and took the piece of equipment from her, recognising it immediately. 'That's not good.'
Sarah knelt down in the floor and moved on her hands and knees through the rubble until she found what she was looking for. She picked up a small metal cuff that was reminiscent of a piece of jewellery. Looking at the inside of the cuff, she spied two small needle-like objects. 'And the focal point, it seems.' She pushed up one sleeve, then held the cuff up to her arm, her eyes lining up the two tiny puncture wounds in her arm with the needles on the cuff. 'Check your arm, Doctor. At some point, I would imagine we both had these cuffs on.'
Sarah stood up and held up the cuff for the Doctor. He pushed up his sleeve and held his arm next to Sarah's. 'Identical markings.'
'Electrical, you think?' she asked.
'Seems the most likely,' he responded.
'Which means,' Sarah started. 'There should be a receiver point as well.' She reached up and looked up at the Doctor's face. Not seeing anything obvious, she began to move her fingers cautiously through the edges of his hair. She finally spotted something just above his ear. 'It's here.'
The Doctor turned and began to examine the skin by Sarah's ear. 'On you as well.' He gave her shoulder a squeeze. 'The power to control something like that.' He blew out a breath. 'Well, it's not pleasant.'
'And probably best that this place is in pieces. No wonder they didn't want the government finding out about this.' Sarah looked around the room. 'We can't have been the first to undergo their experiments.'
The Doctor shook his head. 'No, but thankfully, we're the last.'
Something tucked away into a corner caught Sarah's attention. She held out her hand to the Doctor. 'Let me see the sonic again.' Taking it from him, she walked over to a small piece of rubber piping that was half buried beneath other detritus. She aimed the sonic at the piping and watched as it melted, leaving in its place a gleaming piece of metal. She held it up for the Doctor to see. 'Well, this certainly answers a few questions.'
'Indeed.' A deep frown settled across the Doctor's features.
Sarah dropped onto the small sofa in the quarters that the Betelgeuseans had set up for her and the Doctor. She leaned forward and held her head in her hands. The Doctor watched her, but tried to keep some distance between them. The human emotions flooding his system at the moment caused him not to trust himself. All he wanted to do was hold her and try and soothe her, somehow ease the discomfort he knew she was in.
She looked up and caught him watching her. 'An illusion.' She reached forward and slammed her fist on the table in front of her, then winced, holding her hand up in front of her face, examining it and wiggling her fingers. 'All of the equipment we were able to recover seems to indicate that what we are experiencing is nothing more than a projection. How is that possible? The equipment's been destroyed, the illusion should've been shattered along with it.'
'Unless the equipment is in us,' he held up his hands. 'I mean, given the puncture wounds.'
'I thought of that, but it seems unlikely. They'd want to maintain more control over us.' She held one finger over the pulse point of her opposite wrist, feeling the double pulse beating beneath the skin's surface. 'This doesn't feel like much of an illusion, does it Doctor?'
At that, he walked over and sat down beside her. 'No, it doesn't. Temperature, respiration, hearts. I know the changes feel as real to you as they do to me.'
'Simple physical changes are easily enough mimicked, I suppose. But what is harder and the bit I still have trouble comprehending is how they managed to alter our perceptions of reality. I can see the timelines etched out in front of me, yet the reality must be that I am still human.'
The Doctor ran a hand over his eyes. 'And I can only see and feel the here and now. All five senses, purely human.'
'You still have to be a Time Lord, deep down in there somewhere.' She looked up and turned slightly to face him. He stared straight ahead, so she reached out and took his hand. 'What if the equipment we found is wrong? So much of it was in pieces.'
He sighed. 'I thought about that, but we didn't find anything else to contradict our theory. Nothing concrete, no research notes, no nothing.'
'So we're just making guesses at this point.' Sarah regarded him for a moment, watching the expressions on his face change from moment to moment. Rather than dwell on the destroyed lab and their findings, she focused on the changes he was experiencing. 'How are you handling the onslaught of human emotions?'
He closed his eyes and flopped back on the sofa, draping his arm across his eyes, his voice exhausted. 'Oh, Sarah Jane, they're so overwhelming. How do you humans stand them?'
'We're born with them, we're used to them. We learn how to control them.' She sighed. 'Well, most of them,' she added softly before tilting her head as she regarded the Doctor. 'I know how tough it is for you right now. Time Lords are so detached from their emotions. I understand that now. However, things do seem to be balancing themselves out, don't you think?'
He lifted his arm enough to peer at her with one eye. 'Sarah, you're getting used to this, aren't you?'
She jumped up and began pacing around the room. 'It's not like I have a choice, is it?' she shouted before taking a deep breath. 'I'm sorry. I'm used to having my emotions just under the surface, but accessible and a part of me. Instead, these come in flashes like lightning, shooting up out of nowhere and disappearing just as fast. This whole thing makes me feel like I'm looking up from under the water, needing air and not being able to break through to the surface.' She went back to sit next to him and reassuringly put a hand on his arm. 'Doctor, you know I'll do anything I can to help you through this. Just as you've been helping me.'
'I don't feel very helpful at the moment,' he mumbled.
'Well you have been, no matter what you feel.' She nudged him with her elbow. 'Hey,' she said softly, getting him to move his arm and look at her. 'We could go back to the TARDIS and leave. Nothing says we have to stay here.'
He sat up and thought about it for a moment. 'Do you really think it's wise to leave while we're both in such a state?'
Sarah shrugged. 'Not especially, but I had to make the suggestion, given that we're essentially waiting to see if these truly are just hallucinogenic effects or something more permanent.' She yawned. 'That's typical, I still appear to need sleep like a normal human.'
The Doctor laughed. 'You say that like it's a bad thing.'
'Maybe I've picked up your insults of my species.'
'My species now,' he threw back at her.
'Yes, well, I'm not ready to give up on my humanity yet, and you shouldn't be ready to give up your Time Lord attributes either.' She stood up and made her way towards an interior door. 'If there's another solution, maybe I can work it out while I take a little nap.' She pointed towards the Doctor and pointed, a teasing smile on her face. 'Don't wander off now, Doctor.'
He lifted up his hands in surrender even as he laughed, a part of him able to appreciate their role reversal. 'Don't worry, Sarah, I'm not going anywhere.'
Sarah got up out of bed and grabbed her robe off the chair, pulling it close around her. Something wasn't quite right, yet she couldn't put her finger on it. She walked into the living quarters and immediately realised when she saw the Doctor curled up in a ball on the floor. She could tell from his position that he wasn't simply just trying to sleep. Despite her new Time Lady instincts to keep her distance, her heart tugged at her to try and comfort him. She knelt down on the floor next to him and reached out to rest her hand on the top of his head. 'You all right?' she asked softly.
He turned to look up at her, letting her see the anguish in his eyes. 'I don't know if I can handle this, Sarah.'
She soothingly smoothed his hair away from his forehead. 'Of course you can. You're the strongest person I know.' He closed his eyes, shifting to rest his head on her legs, relishing her touch and the sound of her voice. 'You're exhausted, Doctor. Why don't you go lie down in the other room? You'll be more comfortable and sleep will help you process this, just like it did me.'
She gently pushed him to a sitting position before standing up and holding out her hands to him. Wordlessly, he took her hands and followed her back towards the bedroom. She walked him over to the edge of the bed where he slipped off his coat before sitting down. She reached out with one hand, gently unwinding the scarf from around his neck even as her other hand moved from his shoulder to his hair and back. Sarah took his coat and scarf in hand while he unfastened his waistcoat and tie, then handed both to her. While Sarah put his coat and scarf across the back of the nearby chair, he kicked off his shoes and crawled back into the bed.
The Doctor watched as Sarah sat down in the chair. 'You need your rest too, Sarah, and I know for a fact that's not a comfortable chair.' He scooted back and patted the empty space on the bed beside him.
Biting her bottom lip, she stood up and walked over to tentatively sit on the edge of the bed. 'As long as you're sure it won't disturb your sleep. I've been sleeping, you're the one that needs to rest now.'
He sat up and took both her hands in his. 'You're the only other being in the universe that understands.' He stared at her hands, weighing his words before speaking, his thumbs tracing absent patterns along the back of her hands. Finally, he looked up into her eyes. 'I need you close by, Sarah.'
She sighed, her human emotions fighting to come to the surface, but her Time Lord detachment overriding them. 'At least we're not being watched,' she said softly, pulling her hands away from him and watching his eyes. She saw a level of vulnerability there she'd never seen before. 'Fine, all right.' She laid back and laced her fingers across her stomach while the Doctor reclined back on his side facing her.
They both lay perfectly still but remained wide-awake, not wanting to say or do anything to make the situation more awkward than it already felt. The Doctor finally took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. 'Not the way I ever thought we'd be sharing a bed,' he admitted quietly.
She turned towards him, eyes wide. 'Am I to infer from that statement that the thought of us sharing a bed had crossed your mind at some point in time?'
'Is that a problem?' He smiled, a sparkle in his eye. 'We've shared just about everything else.'
Sarah shook her head. 'Problem? No, not a problem.' She reached over and caressed his cheek, letting her hand rest there. 'Just. Unexpected.' Smiling, she pulled her hand back. 'Good night, Doctor.'
He quickly leaned over and let his lips barely touch her forehead. 'Good night, Sarah Jane.'
Lying on his back, the Doctor focused on the ceiling. Absently, he kept lacing and unlacing his fingers together across his stomach. He turned his head slightly and looked at where Sarah was curled up next to him asleep. He was glad to see her sleeping given how rough the last few days had been for them. Instead of resting like he promised her, he couldn't stop his mind from churning excessively. The onslaught of emotions that he struggled to deal with threatened to overwhelm him.
It certainly didn't help that the object of most of those emotions was sleeping less than a foot away from him. In the same bed, yet seemingly a universe away. A huge part of him wanted to reach out and touch her. To pull her close and never let go. However, he knew those dreams were unrealistic fantasies that lead nowhere in the long run. Provided things ever got back to normal. Otherwise, they had a whole other series of issues to deal with.
He knew what a human male would do. A human male would damn the consequences and allow himself to get involved. A human male wouldn't worry about whether changing the terms of their relationship would destroy the intense friendship they'd carved out for themselves.
His thoughts were interrupted as Sarah shivered, then stirred enough to tug the duvet up around her shoulders. The Doctor turned slightly towards her, then paused before reaching out to adjust the duvet, tucking it around her. He couldn't stop himself from pushing back a stray section of hair that had fallen across her face. He allowed his fingers to slightly brush her cheek before dancing down her neck to where the duvet was resting against her shoulders.
Sarah's eyes fluttered open and quickly locked with his. He tried to hide his embarrassment, but the easy smile she gave him just melted it away.
'You shivered,' he said softly.
'My temperature is equalising. Well, at least it appears to be closer to human normal. What about yours?'
He nodded, 'Stabilising, I do believe. A few other things are coming back in line as well.'
She reached out and rubbed his upper arm in what she hoped was a reassuring gesture. 'I know. Right now we're probably both about fifty-fifty, wouldn't you say?'
He gave her an easy smile. 'Something like that.'
She locked her eyes on his. 'You're processing. Dealing with an onslaught of emotions you never thought you'd have to face. Seeing things from another's perspective in ways you never could before.' She propped herself up on her elbow and watched him, knowing she was right from the look in his eyes, even if he didn't respond. 'Oh you're brilliant, Doctor, but this, this is something you've never experienced before. There are limitations and concerns that rattle through your consciousness in waves, threatening to completely overwhelm you.'
'How can you tell?' he asked, his eyes widening.
She smiled. 'It's written all over your face. Besides, I think like you do now and I know how balancing both the human and Time Lord sides are difficult.' Sarah sighed, even as she put her head back down on the pillow, but continued to watch the Doctor. 'I'm struggling just as much as you are, but the only thing we can do is get through it. Hopefully, we'll find an answer sooner rather than later.'
'Is being a Time Lady so bad, Sarah?'
'Not if you were still a Time Lord. Humans seem so small at the moment.'
He knew she didn't mean to, but her words hit him like a punch to the stomach. It made him think of all the comments he'd made to her over the years about her humanity and disparaging her species. 'It's a wonder you've travelled with me all this time, Sarah.'
She began to absently trace a pattern on the bed between them, focusing on her hand instead of his face. 'What do you mean by that?'
'Given how much I used to degrade humans and look down on them. I probably came across as a bit pompous.'
Sarah laughed. 'Yes, you did. On more than one occasion.' Her voice softened as she added, 'However, I never took it personally.' She forced herself to look back up into his blue eyes that remained locked on hers, piercing to her very soul. 'I always liked to think I was special. Otherwise, you would've taken me home and dropped me off at the first opportunity.'
Throwing caution to the wind and mentally damning the consequences, the Doctor reached out and wrapped his arms around Sarah, pulling her close to him. He felt her stiffen at first, but he spoke again, his voice dropping to a level he didn't even know he had and felt her relax in his arms. 'Oh Sarah, you are special. So special to me. Never doubt that for a moment.'
'I won't.' Sarah closed her eyes, mentally reaching back to her humanity and allowing herself to treasure the feel of his arms around her. It was a moment she never wanted to end, even as she felt the desperation to return to normal emanating from the Doctor. 'We'll get through this. Together,' Sarah said softly.
The Doctor pulled back and looked into her eyes, asking an unspoken question. Her eyes reflected just as much as emotion as he felt at the moment. He gave her a wicked grin. 'You know Sarah, this may seem very human of me, but I find myself in the strangest of predicaments, and I don't quite know what to do about it.' He watched for her reaction before continuing. 'Here am I, in a bed, with a beautiful woman in my arms and I only want to do one thing.'
Sarah looked up at him and smiled, not knowing quite what to expect next. 'What, talk her to death?'
He barely shook his head. 'I don't think so.'
She scooted closer to him and draped her arm around his waist. 'So why are you still talking?'
He returned her smile before leaning in and capturing her lips with his.
Sarah rested her head on the Doctor's chest, one hand absently drawing patterns along his chest. His fingers danced along her bare shoulders as they lay in silence, heartbeats slowly returning to normal. Breaking the moment, Sarah gasped and sat up suddenly, her hand over her heart.
'What's wrong?' the Doctor asked, sitting up and reaching for her.
She glanced back at him. 'Don't you feel it?'
He tilted his head, then realised exactly what she was talking about. 'We're back!' He looked around the room before his eyes focused on the expression on Sarah's face. He put an arm around her shoulders. 'Are you all right?'
She nodded, but didn't trust her voice. He immediately noticed the sadness in her eyes, so he pulled her to him in a warm embrace. 'It's going to be all right, Sarah. I promise.'
She circled her arms around his waist. 'Is it? Things are different now.'
'Not different than they were three days ago when we landed here.' He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and gave a small laugh. 'Well, some things that are different, but I think we can live with those changes, don't you?'
She buried her head into his shoulder, barely nodding in answer to his question.
He turned to rest his cheek against the top of her head. 'C'mon Sarah, we should get dressed and get back to the TARDIS. I think we've spent enough time here on Betelgeuse.'
'I agree,' she mumbled into his shoulder. 'Let's go home.'
He smiled as he continued to hold her close, both of them afraid to move. His mind's eye began to focus on all the things that the word "home" could mean to them in that moment.
The Doctor followed Sarah into the console room. He watched as without a word, she walked straight through towards the inner door, not looking back or regarding him in any way. He started to call after her, but thought better of it. He stared at the console and started punching in coordinates. After hitting the dematerialization switch, he absently reached up and put his hand on his chest, feeling the echoes of his double heartbeat. Mere hours before, only a single heart beat there and the reminder of that experience etched a frown deeper into his features.
He glanced back at the door heading into the interior of the TARDIS and closed his eyes, hanging his head. In the brief period of time where he'd been human, he'd been exposed to every range of possible emotion. He'd allowed those emotions to get the better of him the previous night and crossed a line he never expected to cross.
Balancing the weight of those radically different sensations seemed such a heavy burden, especially since it was primarily a foreign concept to him. As many years as he'd surrounded himself by humans, he'd never bothered to take into consideration how different they were from him, other than the obvious.
His mind wondered how humans managed to keep those balances in check without losing their sanity. A feat most of them managed so well. They displayed such power, such determination, such passion, especially when the odds seemed so stacked against them. He purposefully allowed himself to lose track of time as he pondered all the ramifications of everything that happened on Betelgeuse before making his way towards the inner TARDIS door and making his way to Sarah's room.
The Doctor tapped on Sarah's door, then turned to listen to see if she answered. When no answer appeared forthcoming, he rapped harder, then finally opened the door just a crack. 'Sarah?' At the silence, he poked his head around the door and frowned, seeing Sarah curled up in a ball, fully dressed, on top of the duvet, facing the opposite wall. 'Sarah?' he repeated. 'Are you all right?' he asked softly.
She mumbled slightly, curling tighter into herself. The Doctor struggled with what to say or do as he walked across the room. He wrung his hands together a moment before sitting on the edge of the bed. 'Sarah?' he asked again, hoping to get a better response than previously, but none was forthcoming.
How would a human man seem comforting and caring to a woman? Especially given how close he and Sarah were. He reached out and lightly put a hand on her shoulder. 'Talk to me.' He couldn't stop his voice from cracking. In that moment, he thought it sounded positively human. When she didn't move, he closed his eyes and thought back at how easy it had been to hold her the previous night. He began to rub her back in soothing circles. 'It's hard to take in, I know,' he whispered. 'But it's just like you said to me yesterday. We'll get through this Sarah. You and I, together.'
Sarah uncurled enough to turn her head and look at him. There were tears on the edge of her eyes, even if her face remained blank. In an action that seemed foreign to him, yet somehow instinctual, he slid down in the bed next to her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to him.
She didn't question, but instead turned around, curling into him and burying her head in his chest. As he continued to rub her back, he finally heard a sigh escape her. 'I just feel so empty,' she whispered.
He understood how she felt. Having been robbed of all his Time Lord attributes had left him haunted with the memories. Even if Sarah believed it was only an illusion forced upon them by their captors, the Doctor knew that somehow Sarah had been exposed to the time vortex. She knew, even if only for a brief moment, what it felt like to be a Time Lady. Now that was gone, and he was sure she felt just as haunted as he had been. 'Your reactions are perfectly justified, under the circumstances.'
'I don't need your validation,' she said harshly before looking up into his eyes, all anger melting at his gaze. 'I'm sorry, Doctor. How did you stand it? Being human, I mean.'
'You were there, Sarah. You saw it for yourself.' His eyes focused on the ceiling, not wanting to admit how hard it had truly been for him. 'I had to believe the effect was not permanent. Forced to masquerade as a human, while not preferred, might be an acceptable life, but only in the short term.'
She sighed and turned away from him, breaking their embrace. 'I'm sorry being human was such a chore for you, now you're stuck around my tiny human mind.'
'You know,' he said, reaching back for her, 'humans are quite my favourite species.'
'As a pet, you mean?' Her voice was distant as she sat up in bed. 'I've experienced that oversized Time Lord brain, remember?'
'And I've experienced being human.' He sat up beside her and took her by the shoulders, turning her towards him. 'Sarah, I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. You have to know I would never wish to cause you pain.'
She tilted her head, sensing he wanted to say something else. 'But?'
He moved his hands to cup her face, his thumbs brushing over her cheekbones. 'But I'm also a selfish old Time Lord, and if I could, I would've been perfectly content for you to remain a Time Lady.'
She narrowed her eyes. 'Why?'
Instead of answering her, he continued. 'Believe what you like, but your exposure has changed you, and even I don't know what the ultimate outcome will be.' He waited to measure her reaction, but it was non-existent. 'My time as a human has changed me as well.'
He moved to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. 'I've struggled,' he paused, searching for the right words, but they didn't seem forthcoming, instead his thoughts breaking through in phrases. 'Not knowing how to explain.' His eyes locked onto hers. 'To relate. To show emotions.' He couldn't make the words come out as they appeared in his head, so instead he leaned in and kissed her, hoping that would say more.
Sarah pulled back, her face void of expression. 'Since when do Time Lords kiss? Other than last night, which I assume you feel was a fluke.'
'It was not a fluke, Sarah.'
She ignored his comment. 'Besides, you know the normal method of indicating interest is through the shared cup of tala juice in the ritual ceremonies stemming from the time before Rassilon.'
'Oh pish! You know as well as I do that tala juice tastes like someone crossed a kumquat with bat guano. It's revolting!'
'Well, no one said Gallifreyans were known for their sensitive palate.' Sarah's eyes widened and she reached up and clamped her hand over her mouth. The Doctor only smiled and watched when Sarah slowly pulled her fingers away from her face. 'How did I –' she started.
He looked into her eyes again, their expressions silently communicating. Finally, they both started laughing. Getting more comfortable with the human expressions of emotion, the Doctor opened his arms and smiled as Sarah closed the distance between them. He reclined them both back in the bed and guided Sarah's head to rest underneath his chin.
After several moments of relaxing silence, Sarah looked up at the Doctor. 'I could get used to this, you know.'
He casually kissed her forehead and smiled, noting the golden glow that continued to emanate from her eyes. 'So could I, Sarah. So could I.'
'So where do we go from here?' she asked softly.
'All of time and space is at our disposal, Sarah Jane. But for this, this we take each moment as it comes.'
Sarah closed her eyes and just enjoyed the feeling of the Doctor running his fingers absently through her hair. 'Sounds good to me,' she whispered.